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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Retro Review: Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back
Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Peter Boyle, Dennis Chan, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, John Diehl
Genre: Martial Arts
U.S Box Office Gross: over $1.2 million

Plot: Tong Po broods about his defeat at the hands of Kurt Sloan. Po and his managers resort to drastic measures to goad David into the ring for a rematch

'Can He Kick It? Erm, Yes He Can. Sort Of'

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back is the official sequel to the original Kickboxer flick that was released in 1989 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and was supposedly going to have Van Damme reprising his role - only for the muscles from Brussels to turn it down, in favour of Double Impact, which was a massive success and that it did way better than this film did. Directed by Albert Pyun who did Cyborg and Captain America - the low- budget '90s version that is, not the one starring Chris Evans -  the story, which was penned by David S. Goyer, was retooled with Kurt Sloan, played by Van Damme, no longer the main character, as he is now proclaimed dead. In his place is Kurt's brother, David. 

Interestingly, Goyer went on to write Batman Begins, The Dark Knight movies, Man of Steel, the Blade movies, as well as Jean-Claude Van Damme's Death Warrant. Whilst the film is often criticised for being inferior to Kickboxer 1, I still prefer this over all the other Kickboxer sequels. 

Kickboxer 2 pretty much follows in the same vein as the previous film and whilst I dreaded the idea of the Kickboxer films being poor or nowhere as good as Van Damme's effort, with this film, I actually enjoyed this one in places with some very good fight sequences. 

After Kurt defeats his opponent in Po, Po (no not the Teletubby) murders Kurt, Kurt's girlfriend and his disabled brother at gunpoint, after the events of the previous film. Retired David runs a local kickboxing gym, as well as training other fighters and mentoring the youngsters. 2 years later, Kurt's younger brother, David seeks to avenge his brother's death by defeating Po when he receives an offer from a kickboxing mogul, Justin to step into the ring. 

Sasha Mitchell has nothing on Van Damme, well, fighting and ability- wise as a whole, and many fans of Kickboxer turned their noses up when the former model and star of the teen show, Step by Step was chosen out of all the other available martial arts-based actors to fill Van Damme's shoes. Despite my little nitpick, he still holds his own with his agility and being able to pull off several flying kicks and punches, and in terms of his acting, he's less wooden than Van Damme, yet lacks an even bigger presence to fully sell this film. But I did like his performance and he didn't come across as stilted and one-note and that he could convey a range of emotions. 

With a title in Kickboxer, one expects some overly decent action, and here, it doesn't disappoint. The fights, courtesy of Benny ''The Jet'' Urquidez & Jim Nickerson, are well choreographed and the story has some nice twists; however, it's not as fun as the first film and plus it lacks charm, the close-ups during the fight scenes were milked too much, the soundtrack is cringing and it does have a bit of a TV movie whiff to it as well. It does make up with some decent acting, a great final fight encounter between David and Po, and a less corny screenplay, though. 

The story wasn't much to brag about, but the film does handle the good versus evil theme in a competitive fighting sense, well. 

Kickboxer 2 is often looked down as a poor follow-up, given the exclusion of Jean-Claude, but Sasha Mitchell brings a different vibe to the film, and one I found rather refreshing also & it makes the film less goofy. Peter Boyle was the sleazy promoter jerk & Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa mixes things up as the film's second main antagonist. Even if he pulls off the same evil Asian bad guy face as he always does in Mortal Kombat and his other movies. Does that make it the better film than Kickboxer 1? No, far from it. Actually, this one was decent at best for me and thankfully, it maintains the continuity and kickboxing theme & feel of the prequel, whilst at the same time, experimenting with some different ideas. 

Final Verdict:

I enjoyed this one and whilst it's not great, it was fully watchable with some really good fights, a decent cast and it still has heart, without being too cringey or melodramatic. 


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